Age Like Nobody’s Watching

Life goes so slow. Slow, like molasses.

I don’t understand why people say it goes by fast. My kids should be older than they are by now – their childhoods were long and so was mine. I have lived many lives in this one lifetime.

I’m guessing I’m in the minority on this one.

At 64, soon I’ll be Medicare-eligible. 

I get requests all the time to talk about life in my 60’s. It is one of those unnamed periods. Many of us just don’t know how to be right now. Most of the women and men I treat do not feel old. We remember our parents at our age and boy, they were old.

We are technically “post-menopause/manopause.” Post implies a transition. Most of us are over the transition. We are there. Estrogen and testosterone levels have bottomed out. Our bodies feel dry – from our hair to our skin to our eyes and our vulvas, vaginas and penises. We need to work harder and more carefully to stay juicy and fit.

We are retired or considering it. Caregiving duties for aging parents are done, will be done soon or never were an issue. Our kids are now independent to varying degrees. While we aren’t making lunches for them anymore, they still need us. We worry more about health. 

Erik Erikson describes this eighth and final psychosocial developmental stage (from age 65 to death) as Integrity versus despair. What is integrity?  It is “the acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be…” With that comes wisdom and “serenity to bless and defend one’s life history.” The alternative is despair, slipping into depression over regret and perceived inability to start something new due to lack of time. 

Joan Erikson was Erik Erikson’s wife and main collaborator. After years of studying psychology, I never heard of her.  Although she and her husband were equally involved in developing the psychosocial stages, all the credit went to him. She had second thoughts about this eighth stage. Erikson publicly apologized for attributing great wisdom and integrity to elders, when they may not feel that way at all about themselves. The ability to identify oneself as a wise person, a spirit guide, takes work. Joan Erikson suggests we all go on “becoming,” no matter how old we are.

Gail Sheehy in her book New Passages referred to this time as The Serene Sixties, when we move from the Age of Mastery to the Age of Integrity. She sees integrity as integration, bringing all of the parts of your life into harmony. We spend our lives playing roles – child, student, parent, boss, professional, spouse, friend, grandparent. This is the time to find your authentic self. According to Sheehy, if we made it this far, we have the resilience to do it. 

All of our lives we follow rules, standards and cultural norms. Now our role is less defined. Society has pretty much dismissed us. Many of my peers report feeling invisible. While we cannot control how society sees us, or doesn’t see us, we can control how we respond to it.

No more self-deprecating old age jokes. We can be our own worst enemy.

Dr. Annie K. recommends a few simple ways to appreciate this time of our lives..

FEEL LOVE

But really feel it. Becoming a grandparent made other loves pale in comparison. My grandson Kai showed me the enormity of generational love. Seeing my daughter as a mother for the first time? I was besotted. Studies have shown the comfort of mature love is the single most important determinant of older men’s outlook on life. Let go of ego – love big and bold!

BE MINDFUL

One way to slow down the marching clock is to pay more attention. At the end of the day, take stock. Nothing speeds things up like feeling everyday is a blur.

SEE YOURSELF AS A SAGE

How we present ourselves influences how we are seen by others. If we have done our internal work, we ARE the wise elders. Stand tall and be heard. Someone out there is listening.